Ciao Donato ! 09:16 Jan 18 0 comments
Για το Μακεδονικό 05:42 Jan 18 0 comments
[Iberia] CGT convoca huelga el 9 de febrero en la enseñanza andaluza 03:17 Jan 18 0 comments
A propos du départ prématuré de notre compagnon et ami Donato Romito 20:52 Jan 17 0 comments
Donato Romito (1954-2018) 16:29 Jan 17 0 commentsmore >>
There has been an increase of U.S. interest in "socialism," especially among young adults. What is the significance of this? What does "socialism" mean to people? Why is this happening now? What is holding back the development of a socialist movement? What should be the reaction of anarchists and other anti-authoritarian socialists?
In the United States there has been recently a rise of interest in “socialism,” especially among young adults (“millennials”). Different political views have reacted to this rise in various ways. Conservatives are appalled (“Have we forgotten the lessons of the Cold War?”). The leadership of the Democratic Party (the moderate center) is disturbed (“We’re for capitalism, after all!”) The liberal-left is pleased, so long as “socialism” is interpreted to mean liberal-left politics—not taking away the wealth of the capitalists and creating a democratic, nonprofit, economy.
Anarchists also have various responses. Some hope to create a libertarian (anti-authoritarian) socialist revolutionary wing of a socialist movement. Others see anarchism as different from—even opposed to—socialism of any kind.
To be sure, what most people mean by “socialism” is unclear. I assume that at a minimum they mean opposition to the capitalist status quo and a desire for a better, more just, society (discussed further below).
This is a change in U.S. political culture. For a long time “socialism” (let alone “communism”) has been a word on the devil’s tongue. During the Cold War, being a socialist was enough to get one fired (and being a communist was even more dangerous). All other industrialized capitalist democracies developed mass parties calling themselves socialist, social democratic, labor, or communist, and many “third world” countries had governments calling themselves African socialist, Arab socialist, etc. This never developed in the U.S. Its main “left” party was the Democratic Party, which was always pro-capitalist (leaving aside its origins as pro-slavery). In the last two periods of radicalization (the ‘30s and the ‘60s), there developed minorities which regarded themselves as revolutionary socialist, views which mostly died out in the more conservative periods which followed.
The most obvious sign of this change in politics was the 2016 electoral run of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. He was self-identified as a “democratic socialist” and an advocate of “political revolution.” While in his past, Sanders had expressed sympathy for state-communist regimes, he currently identifies his “socialism” with the social democratic Nordic (Scandinavian) countries. Sanders’ campaign undoubtedly promoted an interest in socialism, but it was also a symptom of that interest, which had been developing for some time.
The Polls Speak
“The anti-Communist Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was alarmed to find in a recent survey that 44 percent of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country compared with 42 percent who want to live under capitalism.” (Goldberg 2017)
“The American Culture and Faith Institute recently conducted a survey of adults 18 and older….Most Americans (58 percent) see themselves as politically moderate. … ‘The most alarming result… was that four out of every ten adults say they prefer socialism to capitalism.…That is a large minority, and it includes a majority of the liberals.’ …40 percent of Americans now prefer socialism to capitalism….” (Nammo 2017)
“…An April 2016 study by Harvard University found that 51 percent of millennials —a loosely defined group of people aged between 18 and 29 — reject capitalism and 33 percent support socialism. “ (Strickland 2017)
“In a recent YouGov survey, [Jan. 25–27, 2016] respondents were asked whether they had a ‘favorable or unfavorable opinion’ of socialism and of capitalism.…Overall, 52 percent expressed a favorable view of capitalism, compared with 29 percent for socialism….There were just two exceptions to this pattern: Democrats rated socialism and capitalism equally positively (both at 42 percent favorability). And respondents younger than 30 were the only group that rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively).” (Rampell 2016)
From a Gallup poll: “Thirty-five percent of Americans have a positive view of the term socialism, similar to what was found in 2012 and 2010. …60%…have a positive view of capitalism….Young Americans constitute the only age group that does not view the term socialism more negatively than capitalism.” (Newport 2016)
“…Last summer Gallup asked survey respondents [for whom] they would be willing to vote….Just 34 percent of respondents age 65 and older said they would be willing to vote for a socialist, compared with about twice that level [69 percent] among respondents younger than 30.” (Rampell 2016)
“….As far back as 2011, a Pew poll revealed, fully 49% of Americans (not just Democrats) under 30 had a positive view of socialism, while just 47% had a favorable opinion of capitalism….” (Meyerson 2016)
What the polls reveal, pretty consistently, is that the majority of U.S. people reject socialism and are in favor of capitalism, but that a notable minority (between 30 to 40 percent) favors socialism. While this is only a minority, it is about the same proportion of the population as that which supports President Trump! Approximately one in three is a significant number. Importantly, young adults are most likely to have a positive view of socialism and a negative view of capitalism (from 40 to 50 percent). “Bernie Sanders didn’t push the young toward socialism. They were already there.” (Meyerson 2016)
This is part of a general swing among part of the population toward the left. I am not going into the polls which show that a large number of people—often the majority of the U.S. population—agrees with the left on many issues: universal health care, increasing (not decreasing) taxes on the rich, free (or cheap) higher education, providing jobs for all, fighting global warming, raising the minimum wage, supporting unions, etc.
“…They don’t counterpose socialism to a militant liberalism. The rise in the number of people who identify as socialists coincides with a rise in the number who call themselves liberals. Whereas in 2000 only 27% of Democrats told Pew they were liberal, by 2015 that figure had risen to 42%, and among millennials, it had increased from 37% in 2004 to 49% today.” (Meyerson 2016)
Why the Rise of Socialism?
One factor in the increase of socialist interest is the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, the changes in China, and the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, both sides agreed that the “socialism” of the Soviet Union was the only socialism there was or could be. Those repelled by the totalitarian repression of the Soviet Union were led to reject “socialism” in favor of Western “democratic” capitalism (“free enterprise”). Those who rejected the evils of capitalism (poverty, racism, pollution, wars of aggression in Vietnam and elsewhere) were attracted to the statified regime of Stalinist Russia as “really existing socialism.” Very few (besides anarchists) rejected both sides in the Cold War and both models of society.
Today the Communist states are no longer available as a bogeyman (the current “enemy” is jihadist terrorism, which is anti-socialist). The right still uses Stalinist Russia as an historical bad example (as it was), but their argument does not have the same bite it once did. Using civilized Sweden’s welfare state as an example of socialism hardly raises the same horror as Stalin’s gulag. The most the conservatives can say is that centralized, bureaucratic, state economies are inefficient. Which they are, but how efficient is U.S. capitalism?
The main reason for the spread of socialism lies within the United States and its allies. An extended period of relative prosperity followed the Great Depression and the destruction of World War II. This ran out of steam around 1970. The general development since (with ups and downs) has been stagnation, increased poverty, growing inequality, successful attacks on the unions, revived threats of nuclear war, and movement toward ecological catastrophe.
“The prime mover of millions of Americans into the socialist column has been the near complete dysfunctionality of contemporary American capitalism. Where once the regulated, unionized and semi-socialized capitalism of the mid-20th century produced a vibrant middle class majority, the deregulated, deunionized and financialized capitalism of the past 35 years has produced record levels of inequality, a shrinking middle class, and scant economic opportunities (along with record economic burdens) for the young.” (Meyerson 2016)
The lived experience of young people in the working class (as most people are) is no longer one of apparent prosperity. Instead they face limited job opportunities, low wages, mountains of school debt, no union protection, a threat of another economic crash, and a frightening future of climate change. They face the most reactionary government in generations, attacking everything good and decent, while the Democratic alternative remains wishy-washy and inadequate (barely a “lesser evil”). The question is not why are people turning toward socialism but why aren’t more people turning into socialists?
The Problem with Socialism
What is “socialism” or “communism” (using them as having similar meanings, as was the case originally)? In Vol. 1 of Capital, Karl Marx refers to “a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labor-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor-power of the community.” (1906; 90) Their work would be “consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan.” (92) That is, a cooperative, socialized, economy would be “consciously regulated by them,” the “free individuals,” self-organized in their community. This seems like a good enough general definition of socialism/communism.
Unfortunately Marx saw this as being carried out in a centralized manner, through the state. (See the program at the end of Section II of the Communist Manifesto, “Proletarians and Communists.”) Anarchists point out that the state (according to both anarchist and Marxist analysis) is not a self-organized community of free individuals, but a bureaucratic-military machine standing over and above the rest of society; such an instrument can only serve the interests of a minority ruling class. It can be nothing else. (Anarchists advocate a democratic federation of free associations and workplace and neighborhood assemblies which would be a community of self-organized free individuals—and would not be a state.)
This statist orientation of Marx (and many other socialists) can lead in two main directions—both with roots in Marx. One statist strategy is to try to take over the existing capitalist state, mostly through elections. The workers would seek to take over the present bureaucratic-military state, nationalizing most of the economy. (This became the program of the European “social democrats”.) But the capitalists and their state agents do not want to let socialist workers take over their state and take away their wealth and power. They have put many roadblocks in the way of the socialist movement, from granting temporary, minimal, reforms to fascist coups.
In the period after World War II, the European social democrats completed their evolution from reformists to mild liberals. They no longer even pretend to advocate a new sort of society. They propose to improve the economy only through government manipulation, such as liberal Keynesian spending, tax changes, and (sometimes) nationalization of failing industries. They have simply become the left wing of capitalist politics. In the prosperity after World War II they could achieve certain gains for working people in the welfare state. Now that the prosperity is over, they are unable to resist capitalism’s turn to austerity, its attacks on working people’s standard of living.
In Bernie Sanders recent presidential campaign he identified as a “democratic socialist.” He did not raise any socialist programs; he did not call for expropriating any of the capitalists or their corporations (such as the oil companies or the banks). He did not raise a vision of a different, better, sort of society. He only proposed to improve society through more government intervention in the capitalist economy. His state programs might provide benefits in this or that area, but are overall ineffective and inadequate for this time of decline and crisis.
The other statist strategy is to overthrow and smash the existing state—but not to create a self-managed “community of free individuals.” Rather they aim to create a new state, which is ruled by a single party controlled by an individual or small group. Such a program may seem to be revolutionary. In China and other countries, as well as in the satellites of the Soviet Union, the Communists did overturn the old states. They did take away the wealth of the old capitalist class (the stock-owning bourgeoisie). But the bourgeoisie was replaced by a new ruling class, a collectivist bureaucracy. The workers continued to be exploited. The state became the center for capital accumulation, in competition with other states and corporations, with an internal market. These regimes murdered tens of millions of workers, peasants, and others. Rather than a “community of free individuals,” this was state capitalism. While they had their benefits, overall these states were horribly oppressive and economically inefficient. Eventually most of them collapsed back into traditional capitalism. (There is also a third, very much minority, trend within Marxism which bases itself on the radically-democratic, humanist, and proletarian aspects of Marx, with politics which overlap with anarchism.)
Anarchists have always rejected these statist programs, predicting that in practice “state socialism” would result in state capitalism. In 1910, Peter Kropotkin predicted, “To hand over to the State all the main sources of economic life—the land, the mines, the railways, banking, insurance, and so on—as also the management of all the main branches of industry, in addition to all the functions already accumulated in its hands (education, …defense of the territory, etc.) would mean to create a new instrument of tyranny. State capitalism would only increase the powers of bureaucracy and capitalism.” (1975; 109-110)
When we ask, why aren’t more people socialists, part of the answer has to do with what socialism has presented itself as: bureaucratic, ineffective, no different from pro-capitalist liberalism, inefficient, or—under certain conditions—monstrously repressive. If people are nevertheless turning to socialism, it is due to the failures of capitalism!
From the beginning, anarchists have rejected state socialism (or what they called “authoritarian socialism”). Kropotkin wrote, “…The anarchists, in common with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left wing…consider the wage-system and capitalist production [for the sake of profits] altogether as an obstacle to progress….While combating…capitalism altogether, the anarchists combat with the same energy the State as the main support of that system.” (1975; 109)
P.J. Proudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist, also called himself a “socialist”. Michael Bakunin, who was involved in initiating the modern anarchist movement, called himself a “revolutionary socialist”, as well as a “collectivist.” Kropotkin regarded himself as a “socialist” and a “communist.” The dominant tendency in anarchism after Kropotkin was “anarchist-communism.” Even Benjamin Tucker, a major individualist-anarchist, called himself a “socialist” (mostly meaning that he was anti-capitalist). In the 1880s, Adolph Fischer, one of the Chicago “Haymarket martyrs,” claimed that “every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist.” (Guerin 1970; 12) Many anarchists, and others who were close to anarchism, have called themselves “libertarian socialists” or “anti-authoritarian socialists” or “libertarian communists.”
I write the last paragraph because many socialists simply do not know that anarchists are, and have always been, socialists. And many anarchists also do not know this. Both groups take for granted that “socialism” means “state socialism.” But a view which advocates a cooperative, collectivized, economy, of freely federated associations, which produces for use and not profit, and which is democratically planned from the bottom up—what is this but authentic socialism? It would be a classless, stateless, “community of free individuals” consciously self-managing their collective labor and dividing their products for the good of all: socialism.
There are also anarchists who do not want to use the term “socialist” today because it is so unpopular—whatever its history. As I have demonstrated, however, there is a lot of support for “socialism.” It is a more popular term than “anarchism”! (Probably most people see “anarchism” as violence, bomb-throwing, window-smashing, and chaos.) It makes sense for anarchists to show their connection to the more popular term. However, I would agree that “communism,” in the U.S. anyway, is still a very negative term (meaning totalitarianism to most people). In other countries (such as France or South Africa) this may not be the case, but in the U.S. it is. I am in the tradition of anarchist-communism, from Kropotkin on, but I rarely use the communist label. (See Price 2008.)
There are also anarchists who deliberately reject the “socialist” label, because they identify as “post-Left,” “post-anarchist,” “anti-civilizationist,” or other views. They often write as if it is a new insight to reject the authoritarianism and pro-capitalism of the Left. Actually anarchists have been opposing the statism and pro-capitalism of the majority of the Left since the beginning—it is what anarchism has always been about. But anarchists have not confused “state socialism” with everything which is on the Left. The Left is in opposition to capitalism, the state, and all oppression. As I quoted Kropotkin above, anarchists “are the left wing” of the Left, the left of the Left—that is, we are most in opposition to all the evils of capitalist society, the ones really for the “community of free individuals”. Anarchists are the authentic socialists.
Popularity of Libertarian Socialist Programs
Due to the collapse of most Communist states and the overall failures of Marxism, there has been an upsurge of interest in anarchism—certainly as compared to the 30s and 60s. Yet “anarchism” is not yet a mass movement or a widely-liked label. Without seeing any polls, I am sure that it is less liked than “socialism” (but perhaps more accepted than “communism”—in the U.S.).
However, there are aspects of anarchism (libertarian socialism) which are relatively popular. For example, the idea of government takeover of industry (“nationalization”) is not attractive to many people. Much more attractive is the idea of worker-run enterprises (producer cooperatives), worker’s management, consumer cooperatives, government ownership at the local level (city, town, or village), with worker management. Such ideas have become quite widespread on the Left. There is a significant number of writers, not all identified as socialists, who have made workers’ self-management central to their programs (see Price 2014).
In themselves, the ideas of producer co-ops and municipalization are not radical—but in certain circumstances they may be revolutionary: such as a program to expropriate the energy industry and turn it over to worker and community control. Or if striking workers occupied workplaces and demanded to take them away from the owners, proposing to federate with each other.
Similarly, among climate justice theorists, there is agreement on the need for coordinated efforts and an overall plan for a transition to renewable energy, on a national and international level. But there is also agreement on the need for more economic, industrial, and urban decentralization and local integration. This would cut down transportation and distribution, make recycling easier, improve democratic participation in planning, bring food production into daily life, and in general create a human scale life style. Such ideas have been raised from writers such as Naomi Klein to Pope Francis, as well as Marxist eco-socialists (see Price 2016).
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, wrote a book asserting, “We need to move decisively to rebuild our local communities….Community, it turns out, is the key to physical survival in our environmental predicament and also to human satisfaction.” (2007; 2) McKibben is a left liberal (he backed Sanders). But he illustrates how ideas, worked on for generations by anarchists, have become active in the current movement. (Anarchists can also agree with the need for overall democratic planning for a transition to a balanced ecology—but not by the existing institutions of the capitalist states.)
Even in the short run, there are militants who are fed up with approaches based on trying to take over the state—usually through elections, via the Democratic Party or a new-party. They could be open to a strategy based on militant mass actions, demonstrations, union organizing, occupations of workplaces and schools, strikes and general strikes which close down cities until real gains are won. These are the strategy and tactics of a revolutionary anarchism.
“Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”—Michael Bakunin
In the broadening movement of opposition to the U.S. capitalist attacks on the working population, there is a need to build a revolutionary libertarian socialist wing of anarchists and other anti-authoritarian socialists. The evils of capitalism in decline pushes people toward socialism. Its bureaucratic, statist, and centralist history pushes people away from socialism. But a focus on freedom, self-management, and cooperation may attract a layer of workers and youth and other oppressed people to the vision of a truly free, cooperative, democratic, and ecologically balanced community.
Goldberg, Michelle (2017, Dec. 5). “Why Young People Hate Capitalism.” New York Times. A27.
Guerin, Daniel (1970). Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. (trans. M. Klopper). NY: Monthly Review Press.
Kropotkin, Peter (1975). The Essential Kropotkin (eds. E. Capouya & K. Tompkins). NY: Liveright.
Marx, Karl (1906). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. NY: Modern Library.
McKibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy; The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. NY: Henry Holt & Co./Times Books.
Meyerson, Harold (2016, Feb. 29). “Why are there Suddenly Millions of Socialists in America?” Guardian U.S. Edition.
Nammo, Dave (2017, March 18). “Socialism’s Rising Popularity Threatens America’s Future.” National Review.
Newport, Frank (2016, May 6). Gallup News.
Price, Wayne (2016). “Eco-Socialism and Decentralism: The Re-Development of Anarchism in the Ecology/Climate Justice Movement.” Anarkismo.
Price, Wayne (2014). “Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises: A Revolutionary Program; Industrial Democracy and Revolution ” Anarkismo.
Price, Wayne (2008). “What is Anarchist Communism?” Anarkismo.
Rampell, Catherine (2016, Feb. 5). “Millennials have a Higher Opinion of Socialism than of Capitalism.” Washington Post.
Strickland, Patrick (2017, Feb. 9). “More Americans Joining Socialist Groups under Trump” Al Jazeera United States.
*written for www.Anarkismo.net
north america / mexico / community struggles / non-anarchist press Wednesday December 20, 2017 15:48 bySex Worker Solidarity Network
The City of Tampa is rewriting a homophobic bathhouse ordinance to now criminalize sex workers. Please call and email city council members to oppose the criminalization of sex workers and stop the homophobic bathhouse ordinance.The “Bathhouse Ordinance” it’s called: flying under the radar of dedicated activists and sex workers alike, the City of Tampa has revived a homophobic law in hopes of targeting “sex traffickers.” But it isn’t difficult to see what happens when the state “cracks down” on crime. In true Reaganite and Clintonian fashion, this ordinance presents as a public good while serving to further criminalize and marginalize victims, workers, undocumented immigrants, trans people, black women and all people of color. While touting their own whistles, Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez (two of the most sympathetic bureaucrats on city council) have proposed an ordinance targeting “sex-traffickers” which, unsurprisingly, NEVER ONCE mentions sex traffickers. Unfortunately as is often in the narrative surrounding sex trafficking, this ordinance serves only to mass target, surveil, and arrest the most vulnerable workers.
The city likes to cite Florida as being “worst in the US” for sex trafficking and yet, as usual, this is based on outdated and mismanaged statistics. The city continues to dismiss its residents, go above our heads, and assume the experiences and identities of those most harmed by its police state. The city is so certain human trafficking is happening that they’ve created an ordinance to arrest victims, yet they’ve never spoken to a single victim of human trafficking themselves. The Sex Worker Solidarity Network & allies has met with the city to inform them of their misunderstandings in the community they claim to represent and were met with typical bureaucrat rhetoric. The city attorney Mike Schmidt admits this ordinance will not stop human trafficking and will ONLY arrest victims of it. He also admitted that arresting victims is the most creative solution they have come up with.
How long must we continue stigmatizing the experiences, lived and orated, by the marginalized? How much more must we endure the oppression of a state which neither cares nor provides for those in need? The Sex Worker Solidarity Network in Tampa does not DISCARD victims. The SWSN is fighting day in and out to protect honest working people from intentional criminalization and stigmatization, the largest threat to the personhood and safety of victims and sex workers alike, and this work will continue despite the state’s best attempt to infiltrate and disband us. This is a call to action for all allies: stand in solidarity with the workers of Tampa Bay and call out the city for its gross disconnection and subsequent harm done to their own residents. In the mean time the Sex Worker Solidarity Network will continue uplifting the voices of those most silenced by our unfeeling, unlistening, unyielding governing body which believes it knows better for us than we do.
On behalf of workers everywhere, give the city hell about this violation of our speech, existence, and livelihood. In strength and solidarity!
Please email and call Tampa City Council Members. Tell them to oppose the criminalization of sex workers and stop the homophobic bathhouse ordinance.
Yvonne Yolie Capin
How can we build an effective popular movement to change society? That is the subject of this book, which has been widely praised. In my opinion, it has important and profoundly true things to say, but is politically unbalanced and mistaken in certain ways.
This is an important and interesting book about how to build a movement. From the blurbs it includes, it has been highly praised by many well-known militants and theorists of change. In my opinion, as a libertarian (antiauthoritarian) socialist, it has something profoundly true to say, but it is politically unbalanced.
We live in a time when awful things are happening, politically, economically, socially, militarily, and ecologically—and worse things threaten to happen. Yet, as Jonathan Smucker points out (relying on the polls), “Today in the United States more millennials identify with socialism than with capitalism….On nearly every major issue, relatively progressive positions have come to enjoy a majority of support….The establishment is in crisis. Popular opinion is on our side.” (2017; 252—254) Why then are those committed to social justice so weak, marginalized, and with minimal political impact? What can be done to change that? That is the important topic addressed by this book.
Smucker’s message is essentially this: too much of the Left is inward-looking, comfortable with itself, and self-involved. It is correct, even essential, to have a core group of reliable militants, but leftists must reach out to others, go beyond their comfort zone, and get other people involved, to whatever degree they can be involved. It is not enough to build a club of the like-minded. It is necessary to work out a strategy for winning gains, for influencing others, for achievement, and for exercising power. It is necessary to build a movement, a movement for power. The strategic aim should be to challenge the dominance (the “hegemony”) of the ruling elite over popular consciousness and established institutions—and to ultimately replace its hegemony with that of the Left.
That is the book in a nutshell. He repeats the message over and over, to drive it home, with various elaborations and modifications. This message is true and important but not especially new. For decades, revolutionary Marxist and anarchist organizations have urged their members to go beyond middle class intellectuals and students, to root themselves in the working class—particularly in the most oppressed and discriminated-against sectors of the working class (African-Americans, unskilled workers, women, etc.). This was essential for building an effective revolutionary movement.
For example, in the ‘70s, Hal Draper criticized sects which postured as small mass parties: “The life-principle of a revolutionary mass party is not simply its Full Program, which can be copied with nothing but an activist typewriter and can be expanded or contracted like an accordion. Its life-principle is its integral involvement as a part of the working-class movement, its immersion in the class struggle not by a Central Committee decision but because it lives there.” (quoted in Krul 2011)
Prefiguration vs. Strategy
The problem of the self-enclosed and isolated grouping, then, applies in many forms on the Left. It applies to small revolutionary socialist organizations, built around their dogmas and their newspapers. It applies to co-op stores and bicycle clubs. But Smucker is especially aiming his criticism at anarchists, based on his experience in the Occupy Wall Street encampment in 2011. (Which is also consistent with my own—much more limited—experience with OWS.) He describes the anarchists as focused on building a self-governing collectivity, which would inspire people to go and do likewise. They did not, he claims, think of OWS in strategic terms, about how to use it as a basis for building a broader movement to challenge established politics. They vehemently opposed raising demands on the state, which would have been necessary if the movement was to attract others. He counterposes the anarchist emphasis on “prefigurative” organizing to his focus on “strategic” thinking.
“In contrast to power politics, ‘prefigurative politics’ seeks to demonstrate the ‘better world’ it envisions for the future in the actions it takes today….I argue that even leftist idealists have to strategically engage power politics proper, if they hope to build anything bigger than a radical clubhouse.” (103) Smucker cites major anarchist theorists, “Manuel Castells, Richard J.F. Day, and David Graeber seem to concur with my claim that [prefigurative politics] aims to replace…strategic politics, especially if the later is defined in terms of hegemonic contestation.” (127)
For example, David Graeber has written, “… most successful forms of popular resistance have historically taken the form not of challenging power head on, but of ‘slipping away from its grasp’, whether by means of flight, desertion, or the founding of new communities.” (quoted in Price 2016) Laurence Davis summarizes—favorably—this viewpoint, “For contemporary ‘small-a’ anarchists…these here-and-now alternative institutions…and social relationships …are the essence of anarchism….Many contemporary anarchists insist that ‘the revolution is now’….” (same) Some autonomous Marxists have adopted a similar perspective, calling it “exodus”—somehow escaping from capitalism without confronting it or the state.
I have written several essays critical of this view (Price 2015a; 2015b; 2006). Most of Smucker’s criticism is on the mark. The capitalist class with its institutions of power—especially the state—will not allow the people to gradually and peacefully build alternate institutions which could replace the market, industrial capitalism, and the national state. This was demonstrated (once again) when the police broke up Occupy encampments, after a few months. This was done throughout the country, with coordination by the (Obama-Democratic) national government. The power of the state could not be ignored.
But the opinions he cites are from only one school of anarchism. There is also the tradition of revolutionary class-struggle anarchism (libertarian socialism). (Price 2016; 2009) This aims to build a mass movement which can eventually overthrow the capitalist class and its state, along with all other institutions of oppression—and replace them with self-managed, cooperative, nonprofit, institutions from below. It sees a major role for the working class, with its potential power to stop the means of production. It also has organized other sections of the oppressed and exploited to fight for freedom, in various countries and at various times.
Smucker, who claims to have once been an anarchist, appears to be completely ignorant of this alternate, and mainstream, tendency in anarchism, which goes back to Bakunin and Kropotkin, the anarchist-communists and the anarcho-syndicalists. (A slight example of Smucker’s ignorance of anarchism appears in his discussion of recent biological evidence that human beings, like other animals, are not only competitive and aggressive, but also are highly cooperative and sociable. This is true, but it was demonstrated over a century ago by Peter Kropotkin in his Mutual Aid, a foundational work for anarchism.)
Revolutionary anarchism would not accept this binary counterposition of prefiguration vs. a strategy for power—whether raised, on different sides, by Smucker or by certain anarchists. Even Smucker accepts that a strategic approach may incorporate prefiguration, as a minor aspect. But actually the two depend on each other. We cannot build a participatory democratic society unless we build a participatory democratic movement, and it will be a stronger movement the more that people democratically participate.
This point is made in a book on unions, fittingly titled, Democracy is Power. “Internal democracy is key to union power….A union will act in the interests of members only if these members control the union….The power of the union lies in the participation of its members, and it requires democracy to make members want to be involved….A union run by the members is also more likely to exercise its power.” (Parker & Gruelle 1999; 14) This does not mean that specific forms, such as consensus and open membership, are always required. However, strategy and prefiguration should be one and the same.
The Limits of Liberalism
The primary weakness of this book is its one-sided focus on sectarian withdrawal and self-involvement on the Left. What Smucker says against this is true, but it is not the whole truth.
The main problem with the Left in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is not self-involvement but liberalism, reformism, and opportunism. From the ‘30s to today, most of the Left has supported—or at least, accommodated—capitalism, only urging better regulation of business by the state. It has promoted the state as the main remedy for all social evils—if only the state would be somewhat more democratic. It has portrayed the state as a neutral institution, to be used by the corporate rich or by the working people, depending on events. It has urged a focus on elections, to put individuals into office to be “political” for the people. It has channeled mass action into the Democratic Party, the “party of the people,” which has consistently been the swamp in which movements suffocate and die. This has been true not only of liberals but also of most of those calling themselves “socialists” or “communists.”
The liberal approach has led to victories, but none which have remained stable and reliable (especially since the period of renewed stagnation and decline beginning about 1970, following the “long boom”). Unions won the right to organize—but today unions in the private sector only represent about 6 % of the labor force, about where they were before the upsurge of the ‘30s. African-Americans defeated legal segregation, but Black people are still on the bottom of society. Even their right to vote is under attack. Women made gains, which are again under attack, especially the right to legal abortions. The “Vietnam syndrome,” which limited the U.S.’s military interventions abroad, is over; now the U.S. wages war around the world, and threatens nuclear war with North Korea. Advancements in environmental protection have been viciously attacked by the current administration—which has attacked popular gains in every field. (Readers may add to the list as they chose.) Liberalism—reformism—has been a failure overall.
Yet this seems to be Jonathan Smucker’s perspective. While he strongly (and correctly) criticizes self-enclosed, sectarian, anarchists and others, he has barely a few phrases about the danger of being coopted by ruling powers. He hopes to build a broad popular movement, including large numbers of “ordinary people,” workers of all sorts, students, and oppressed people—but also to include powerful people from the rich and governing sectors. He wants to win over “allies within the existing establishment.” (167) Radicals need to know “how to strategically influence a decision-maker….” (250) There is a need for “actively courting influential supporters….” (70) This implies not an alliance against the ruling class but an alliance with sections of the ruling class and the state. (This has traditionally been called a “Popular Front,” as opposed to a broad alliance of organizations, parties, and movements of the working class and oppressed sections, which has been called a “United Front.”) In order to include establishment allies, the movement would have to limit the demands which can be raised and the methods which can be used.
Smucker’s aim is not only for a popular movement to develop counter-power to the ruling class, but to take state power. “The state is no longer an other that we stand in opposition to as total outsiders; instead we become responsible for it—parts of it, at least….” (152) His goal is “to consolidate victories in the state….wresting the helm.” (150) He expresses admiration for “the Chavistas in Venezuela…[who] have succeeded in winning some level—however limited a degree—of state power….” (136) Smucker does not mention more recent developments in Venezuela, which have not gone so well for the regime nor for its working and poor people.
Elections and the Democratic Party
To win “victories in the state”, it will be necessary to run in elections. “Hopefully this moment is helping today’s radicals to reconsider our relationship to electoral campaigns and political parties….” (170) Besides the Chavistas, he makes several glowing references to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. “In 2016 Bernie Sanders picked up the torch that Occupy lit….” (246) “The Bernie Sanders campaign showed again…the ripe possibility of such an insurgent political alignment.” (217) The Sanders campaign did demonstrate that there was a lot of dissatisfaction which might be mobilized even behind someone who was called a “socialist” and spoke of “revolution.” This was significant.
But what was the strategic result? Sanders channeled this dissatisfaction into the Democratic Party, eventually behind Hillary Clinton, a neoliberal, militarist, establishment politician. Those who organized the Sanders campaign are now trying to keep its momentum in the capitalist party which has historically been the graveyard of movements. They want to turn the militant youth into voting fodder for another pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist, candidate, who has no solution for the economic and ecological disasters which are looming.
Smuckers cites a lot of sociologists and political scientists, but few radicals. He cites no anarchists (except for the non-revolutionary types) and no Marxists (except for the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci--died in 1937). He never considers the nature of the state, apparently treating it as a neutral institution which can be used by either the people or by the corporate rich. He seems to think that competing classes can take over different “parts” of the same state—denying that it is a unitary institution. One thing on which both the revolutionary anarchists and Lenin agreed was that the existing state was an instrument of capitalism, and that it needed to be overthrown and replaced by alternate institutions. The fate of the Occupy encampments was one demonstration of this.
Other examples have appeared more recently in Greece in the fate of the elected Syriza government, in Brazil with the Workers’ Party government, in South Africa with the ANC, and in many other reformist parties over the decades (such as Allende in Chile in 1973 or the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 30s). Smucker discusses the OWS experience but not any of these. Nor does he examine any of the rich history of revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have been studied by anarchists, Marxists, and bourgeois historians. It is true that we cannot expect a revolution—or even a prerevolutionary period—in the near future. But the goal of a revolution can be used to guide the current struggle for reforms and how that is carried out. A study of the history of previous attempts at revolution could provide lessons even broader than only looking at OWS and the other limited experiences which Smucker has personally gone through.
In fact, limiting ourselves just to struggles for reforms, in the U.S. almost every major victory has been won by non-electoral means. The rights of unions were won through mass strike waves. The destruction of legal Jim Crow and other gains for African-Americans were won through mass civil disobedience as well as urban rebellions (“riots”). The war in Vietnam was opposed through demonstrations, draft resistance, campus strikes, and a virtual mutiny in the armed forces. LGBT rights were fought for through the Stonewall rebellion and ACT-UP’s civil disobedience. The women’s movement was an integral part of these non-electoral struggles. The legal and electoral aspects of these movements were efforts by the establishment to respond to these popular struggles, to get them under control, and finally to kill them. The Democratic Party played a big part in that.
Thu 18 Jan, 13:41
The Revival of U.S. Socialism—And an Anarchist Response Jan 02 03:33 0 comments
Tampa's Dark Ages Dec 20 15:48 0 comments
The Limits of Hegemony Dec 03 12:17 0 comments
Charlottesville: The world is divided... Sep 04 06:21 0 comments
Charlotteville: Ο κόσμος χωρίζ... Aug 24 21:01 0 comments
Μνήμη Σάκκο και Β ... Aug 17 20:22 0 comments
Mourn the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living Aug 16 23:32 0 comments
Θρήνος αλλά και α ... Aug 16 21:52 0 comments
Après le meurtre d’aujourd’hui, nous devons nous unir, nous défendre nous-mêmes et ensembl... Aug 16 08:18 0 comments
After today's murder in Charlottesville, we must all unite to defend ourselves and each ot... Aug 16 08:09 0 comments
Portons le deuil des morts, combattons sans relâche pour les vivantEs Aug 16 07:51 0 comments
Orar por los muertos, luchar con furia para los vivos Aug 16 07:44 0 comments
Δολοφονία της 32χρ... Aug 13 22:34 0 comments
A Response to “In Which the Anarcho-Syndicalists Discover C4SS” Jul 17 14:13 1 comments
Free Speech, Democracy, and “Repressive Tolerance” Jul 07 10:56 0 comments
The Road Not Taken Jul 06 04:47 0 comments
Αποβάλλουν τα πο_... Jul 03 19:21 0 comments
Asesinan a activista de la UPVA en Puebla con tiro de gracia; ¡alto a la guerra sucia cont... Jul 03 19:08 0 comments
“Aquí ya no entra ningún cártel, ni extorsionadores del gobierno”; Policía Comunitaria de ... Jul 03 18:59 0 comments
Ayutla de los Libres municipality will govern itself without political parties; it’s peopl... Jun 28 19:10 0 comments
¡Arantepakua no está sola! Jun 28 18:29 0 comments
Ayutla de los Libres se regirá sin partidos políticos y por la autonomía; es hora de que l... Jun 16 17:32 0 comments
Who Are the Anarchists and What Is Anarchism? Jun 15 03:46 0 comments
Grupo paramilitar asesina a 6 personas y deja 3 menores heridos para despojar territorios ... Jun 10 15:41 0 comments
A 2 meses de la masacre en Arantepakua, se fortalece la Ronda Comunitaria "Kuaricha" y la ... Jun 06 17:32 0 comments
“Llegó la hora, ¡acabaremos con el mal gobierno!”: Concejo Indígena de Gobierno y EZLN Jun 03 17:41 0 comments
Hueyapan decide de forma unánime conformarse como Municipio Indígena; "estamos más cerca d... May 30 18:32 0 comments
¡Apoyemos el paro nacional de l@s trabajador@s y el boicot en Walmart y subsidiarias! May 26 18:03 0 comments
Preparan resistencia en Cacahuatepec ante la presencia de grupos paramilitares y despojo ... May 19 17:42 0 comments
Una semana sangrienta para México; 7 trabajadores agrícolas y 2 periodistas asesinados por... May 19 17:26 0 commentsmore >>